Guest essay by Tiffany Paige, a therapeutic activity specialist with The Hummingbird Project
What does it mean to age and truly walk with someone you love who is experiencing an illness like Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia?
On such a challenging journey, we must look for ways to create meaning, comfort and value. It can be a selfless, even lonely quest, but in doing so we embrace our loved one’s ever-changing needs and desires, rather than our ideas of what we think those needs and desires should be.
Various programs have been developed by eldercare and therapeutic activity experts to help caregivers and family members successfully reconnect individuals with dementia with what brings them purpose, joy and meaning in life.
Northern California based The Hummingbird Project helps Terry with Beth, who is living with Alzheimer’s. The married couple, both in their seventies, have been together since high school. While Beth once worked to put Terry through college, he is now working to keep her life special and engaging. Aging together means honoring one another, no matter where the journey takes you.
SEE AND HEAR, GROW AND DANCE, TOGETHER
Beth once painted brilliant landscapes of the Colorado mountains. She still has a great desire to paint despite her coordination and cognition issues that come with Alzheimer’s. Terry celebrates her new painting style by framing and displaying each new piece. This gives Beth a sense of accomplishment, as well as purpose and value.
While tending to the garden they created together, Beth forgets the names of the many flowers and trees. So, Terry puts labels in the ground to remind her. Beside her favorite tree, he wrote “Beth’s” in big bold letters.
Beth and Terry also now take private ballroom dancing lessons – to stay active and joyfully connected. Terry has two left feet, which amuses Beth, who delights in being the better dancer. Terry admits this is true with a confident grin. He knows he has tapped into another way to bring happiness into their shared life.
For many older adults struggling with dementia, there is a voice inside that still wants to be heard. “Know my new way of being in the world. I still love you and this life still matters. Help me find ways to express myself. Create with me,” the voice calls out.
Therapeutic activity is a way to offer a dignified response: “I see, hear and honor you for exactly who you are. And I will wait for you and walk with you through this life.”